5:26 p.m. Friday, February 19, 2010
Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday that Sudan has made significant progress in its fight against Guinea worm disease.
Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, recently returned from a trip to the African nation to push for the completion of Guinea worm eradication efforts and to survey progress on the April elections, which the Carter Center is monitoring. A health delegation from the Carter Center accompanied the former president.
In Sudan, the number of worm cases has declined from 118,578 in 1996 to 2,753 in 2009. There are no cases in the northern part of the country. A few hundred cases remained in small areas in Ethiopia, Ghana and Mali.
"This will symbolically show -- and tangibly show -- that diseases that are horrendous and widespread can be eradicated," Carter said during a brief telephone interview.
Guinea worm disease comes from drinking water contaminated with worm's larvae. The worm incubates in a person for about a year until it grows up a meter and then painfully exits the body from a blister in the skin.
Methods to stop the disease include educating people to filter water before drinking it; treating infected water with environmentally-safe chemicals; and making sure that people who already have an emerging worm do not enter a water source.
If eradicated, Guinea worm disease would be the second disease in human history to be wiped out. The last was smallpox, which was eradicated more two decades ago.
The Carter Center has spearheaded efforts to eradicate Guinea worm disease since 1986, when there were as many as 3.5 million cases in 20 countries in Africa and Asia.
But it is not just a health issue, but an economic one, Carter said. Once stricken, adults can't walk to the fields to plant crops and children can't go to school.
"It completely eliminates the social and professional activity of a village," Carter said.